This Is the Craziest Stat About Gun Ownership In America

Meet the firearm “super owners.”

IPGGutenbergUKLtd/iStock

Let our journalists help you make sense of the noise: Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter and get a recap of news that matters.


Just 3 percent of Americans own nearly half of the nation’s guns. That’s one of the major findings from what researchers are calling the most authoritative survey on guns in more than two decades. According to the Guardian, which received the an advance copy of the survey, “super owners”—some 7.7 million Americans—own between 8 and 140 guns apiece, 17 on average.

In a series of interviews, researchers at Harvard University and Northeastern University found that super owners are made up of firearms instructors, gunsmiths, collectors, competitive shooters, and preppers. Some have separate rooms in their homes to display their collections; others hoard them alongside water, food, and other survival gear in case disaster strikes. Collectively, they own approximately 130 million of the country’s estimated 265 million guns. (Other estimates put the total closer to 350 million.)

As surprising as that may sound, concentrated ownership is common for most products. The Guardian points out that, according to market experts, the most dedicated 20 percent of consumers typically buy up 80 percent of any given product. The survey’s lead author, Deborah Azrael of the Harvard School of Public Health, says that there’s no research stating “whether owning a large number of guns is a greater risk factor than owning a few guns.”

The new data also sheds more light on the shrinking proportion of Americans who own guns, which dropped from 25 percent in 1994 to 22 percent in 2015, when the survey was conducted. A recent Mother Jones investigation into the nation’s 10 biggest gunmakers noted similar findings: While gun ownership is on the decline, gun owners are stockpiling weapons in record numbers, keeping aloft the nearly $8 billion firearms industry.

The full results of the survey are undergoing peer review and will not be published until next fall.

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest